None of the Above: The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated


Program releases new survey of this rapidly growing population

WASHINGTON DC (October 9, 2012) — Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, the national PBS television program produced by Thirteen/WNET, is launching a three-part mini-series, “None of the Above: The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated,” based largely on a new survey about the views of the 46 million Americans who say they are not affiliated with any particular religion. Watch a preview.

According to the Pew Research Center, one in five American adults — nearly 20 percent of the US population — now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, the highest percentage ever in Pew’s polling. Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly partnered with the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life in a survey to delve more deeply into the theological, social and political views of these Americans, who are often called “the nones.”

“We’re getting a growing group, as much as one-fifth of the adult population, that do not identify with some kind of organized religion, and that has a lot of implications for religion, for politics, for society,” Prof. John Green, director of the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron, told Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. “It represents a very significant change.”

Among the joint survey findings, the miniseries explores:

  • Two-thirds (68 percent) of those who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God or a universal spirit.  More than half (58 percent) say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth, and more than a third (37 percent) describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.”

  • A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation, compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older.

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  • The majority of the religiously unaffiliated are Democrats or lean Democratic, and 67 percent of them believe churches and other religious institutions are too involved with politics.
    Large majorities of the unaffiliated say religious institutions are too concerned with money and power (70 percent) and focus too much on rules (67 percent).

  • More than three-quarters (77 percent) say religious institutions play an important role in helping the poor and needy and bring people together and strengthen community bonds (78 percent).

  • While 76 percent of Americans overall believe that churches and other religious institutions protect and strengthen morality, only about half (52 percent) of the religiously unaffiliated agree.

  • The vast majority of religiously unaffiliated Americans are not actively seeking to find a church or other religious group to join.  Of those who describe themselves as “nothing in particular” (as opposed to atheist or agnostic), 88 percent say they are not looking for a religion that is right for them.

The survey was conducted among a nationally representative sample of adults in all 50 states, including 958 who are religiously unaffiliated.

The impact of the rise of the religiously unaffiliated on politics was further explored today at a panel at the National Press Club featuring Bob Abernethy, host and executive editor of Religion & Ethic NewsWeekly, Kim Lawton, managing editor of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Greg Smith, senior researcher at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Mike McCurry, veteran communications strategist and spokesperson, and Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“None of the Above: The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated” will look at the impact of the rise of the religiously unaffiliated in three segments:

The first segment, None of the Above: Who Are They, will begin airing on public television stations nationwide on October 12, 2012. It provides an overview of who these religiously unaffiliated people are and what they believe. The story will be reported by R&E Host Bob Abernethy and produced by Marcia Henning.

The second segment, None of the Above: Political Implications, which begins airing on October 19, 2012, focuses on how the growing number of religiously unaffiliated citizens could affect elections and the role of religion in politics. The segment will be reported by R&E Managing Editor Kim Lawton and produced by Patti Jette Hanley.

The third segment None of the Above: Religious Implications, which begins airing October 26, 2012, looks at the possible influence of this trend on religious congregations and institutions. This segment will be reported by R&E Contributing Correspondent Deborah Potter and produced by Susan Goldstein.

Please check local listings for time and station information. Additional resource material, including video excerpts from the National Press Club panel, will be available here on this website.

  • edward dupras

    i will bet that many of these people are deists.

  • Unaffilated

    I believe in a Christian God. I do not belong to any religious group or church nor do I have any desire to do so. I find far too many organized religions have too many two-faced, back-biting, meddlers who make too much time for interfering in the live of others to the detriment of those others. I believe in a gentle, loving God. I find much that is common amongst the tenets of the various religions be they christian, muslim, jewish, etc. I find that the majority of these people try to live their lives according to their beliefs w/o trying to force their beliefs on others. But far too many believe theirs is the only true and right way and to force their beliefs on others. Unfortunately, while in the minority these are the vociferous ones. The more religious they claim to be the more dangerous and interfering they are. It all too often seems that the extremists and fanatics are drawn too and easily infiltrate organized religion heirarchies.

  • Dan

    Here’s where the conservatives show up and blast PBS for spreading propaganda and lies and rail against the left wing liberal media liars who are ruining America. Uhh hey, keep drinking the cool aid (or whatever the latest catchy phrase by their fearless savior Rush or Hannity may be teaching them to spew to each other). It’s ok republicans, just keep your eyes on your Fox News and let the world run itself.

  • Daniel

    I know for a fact that I will die one day and no amount of myth is going to ameliorate the uncertainty of what will happen to me when I do.

    I’m going to be the best person I can regardless.

    Actions demonstrate morals, not religious affiliation.

    Religion is mostly an opening for hypocrisy and a closing of tolerance and reason.

  • Apostasyusa

    I know for a fact that I will die one day and no amount of myth is going to ameliorate the uncertainty of what will happen to me when I do.

    I’m going to be the best person I can regardless. Actions demonstrate morals, not religious affiliation.

    Religion is mostly an opening for hypocrisy and a closing of tolerance and reason.

    I think the Republican Party likes to exploit people’s emotions using topics like abortion among others simply to rally their base and get some votes. Personally I do not think philosophical grounds are enough to remove the right of a woman to make her own choice about her body.

    I have got to ask Republicans though: Do you think life begins at conception but ends at birth?

    Furthermore, are you willing as voters to support the “social” systems necessary to avoid abortions within society; i.e. education, healthcare, ending poverty? I think Jesus himself would be turning in his mortal grave if he knew that the love, compassion, and forgiveness he so heavily preached was being ignored for what Convenient Christian Republicans have declared righteous for themselves.

    If you Christians are so righteous about protecting innocent life, then where were you when we caused the deaths of 100,000 Iraqi’s and 4000+ US service men and women? The fact there is a Christian Right is so sad because I guarantee you, if Jesus was a real man as described in biblical texts, he was definitely a liberal.

    I’m done with Republicans.
    It’s like Mr. T said; I pity the fool

  • Patrick

    I would not put too much value on that poll, when everyone else in the world already knows that Americans are big fat liars. Thanks alot in part to Richard Rohr and his enneagram, and his massive ego.

  • greg miller

    This is great news. America is waking up to science, following instincts and reality.

  • John M

    Will a DVD copy of this mini-series be available for purchase? I’m considering basing a Bible study at my church around it. As Christians, we are called to reach out to exactly these people. It is very diffficult to have a direct, vibrant and deep relationship with God in the absence of the support of others who are working through the same issues. As a culture, we’ve gotten so used to being to customize and tailor every part of our lives that we want to do the same thing with our spirituality – ultimately creating God in our own image rather than seeking Him on His terms.

    I am very much looking forward to the mini-series, and I appreciate the work that PBS and the Pew Forum have put into this, even though I may be coming at it from a somewhat different angle than they are.

  • Dave Tynes

    If accepting Christ is supposed to make us into new people, why to we look and act so much like the old ones? Frankly, I became an active believer and church member as a result of getting into trouble. Church became a very important part of both my life and that of my wife. However, every year, I become more and more disenchanted with what I see of contemporary American evangelical Christianity. On some of the most important social issues, such as justice reform, churches are mostly either silent or on the wrong side completely. Church has become more of an instrument of social control and social validation than a true spiritual experience. It pains me to say this because I know a number of fine people that I met in Church. But on the whole, I believe that William Wilberforce and John Wesley would be disgusted at what they see in today’s churches. I was a United Methodist for years, but now consider myself a “none-of-the-above.” I would love to find a truly Christian church.

  • ApostasyUSA

    I know for a fact that I will die one day and no amount of myth is going to ameliorate the uncertainty of what will happen to me when I do.

    I’m going to be the best person I can regardless.

    Actions demonstrate morals, not religious affiliation.

    Religion is mostly an opening for hypocrisy and a closing of tolerance and reason.

  • whyknot

    Perhaps religion will finally drop out of the political spotlight as more Nones stand up. I’ve been an agnostic athiest for 25 years and it irks me that conservatives thump the bible so much. I guess I’m moderate? I want a reasonably sized military, social services that give a hand up, not out. I don’t mind being taxed, but I want my tax money spent responsibly for the good of the ENTIRE nation. I don’t care who sleeps with who or who believes what religion. I want to be left alone to live my life, taking care of me and mine and helping others where I can. I want everyone paid a fair wage based on the skill set required and merit, not on their age, race, sex, political affiliations, etc. No, I don’t think you should make as much as I do if you work at Walmart. I have a degree and 15 years experience in my field which i busted my ass for, sometimes making decisions that were not “fun” but were practical. I’m interested in watching this program. Being from PBS hopefully it won’t be as biased as it seems most everything else is.

  • Bekah

    I can not find this on my local PBS station. Will you be making this available as a podcast at a later date?

  • Jack

    It’s the 21st Century. We’ve proven natural selection and evolution. We have bendable glass that displays video and images. We have metal tubes that fly us through the sky at 600 miles per hour. We can talk to someone, face to face, across the world, in real time. Science and technology is responsible for all of this. Not superstition. It’s about time people started leaving their intellectual shackles behind.

  • Debbie

    Looks like a good program. I look forward to seeing it in it’s entirety. Maybe I will see myself in the crowd in clips from the “Reason Rally 2012″.

  • Lillian Gibbons

    I look forward to seeing each of the segments! Did the survey ask “if the respondent had been affiliated previously with a formal religion, and if so, how does this break out?

  • Bob Johnson

    It’s great to see the number of “nones” on the rise. Millions of these people are Deists but don’t know it. I’m the founder of the World Union of Deists and often hear from people who say how happy they are to know they are not alone in their spiritual philosophy and that it actually has a name. Deists believe the application of our reason on the laws and designs in Nature point us to the Designer. Deists also reject unreasonable claims that the “revealed”/hearsay religions make such as walking on water, God putting one nation above all other nations, etc.

    Progress! Bob Johnson

  • JDE

    @John M.: “Will a DVD copy of this mini-series be available for purchase? I’m considering basing a Bible study at my church around it. As Christians, we are called to reach out to exactly these people.”

    This ecumenical, non-sectarian program doesn’t exist for you to use its segments as proselytizing tools. Look elsewhere for help with your God-bothering.

  • JDE

    @Dan: “It’s ok republicans, just keep your eyes on your Fox News and let the world run itself.”

    If only they would. Unfortunately, they vote.

  • dan scottie

    Watched with interest first installment of “Nones” mini-series. Two things immediately came to mind: I would not attend a church whose facade and even altar were garrishly adorned with campaign slogans either, and I wondered how those churches so involved in politics could possibly maintain their tax -exemption status.

  • Tom

    I am very pleased to see the number of non-religious on the rise. I love to see people using common sense and rationale, rather than mysticism and superstition. One day civilization will look back at Christianity the way we now look back on Greek mythology, etc. Inspiring news for sure!

  • Freya Keddie, Canada

    One’s belief system is such an intensely personal thing, yet it is natural to seek others who share one’s views. For me that need for “community” is best met by the Humanist Society of Scotland
    I wish we had a group like this in Canada.

  • Landry Butler

    I’m good without God, but have an appreciation for things spiritual and I support ones right to relate to the Divine as one sees fit. I see it as a personal thing, kind of like sex, and don’t really care what others do in their bedroom as long as they respect my rights as well. Am looking forward to seeing this program. Thanks for doing it.

  • Laurie Rollins

    Here it is Dec.19th. and this is the first I’ve heard of this series. How could I have been so clueless ! Can I find the DVD at my public library ? For the record, I am a Unitarian Humanist and have no belief in a Supreme Being. Nature is the supreme power. Man, for all his pretentions, is just another evolving species. We are aware of so little , though we contemplate so much, and when confused, use myths to assuage our uncertainties.